About Time – Vinyl / CD / DD
Century Media Records – Release Date: February 3rd 2017
“Odyssey” really saw them forge their own path instead of being a Witchcraft/Graveyard also-ran. – Brian “Butch” Balich
I hope that Brian Balich, of Argus fame (for starters), doesn’t mind me quoting him to start off this review, though he beautifully summed up my thoughts on Horisont with this one sentence when we were recently having a lively Facebook discussion regarding their releases. I remember getting my hands on the first Horisont record some years ago, I believe it was when I was writing reviews for the now defunct Stonerrock.com, as that was a period in my life when I had all kinds of random promos floating through my home office. I remembered that they were a Swedish retro 70’s rock band, as was very much in vogue at the time with the success of Graveyard and Witchcraft, though they sang a considerable deal more in Swedish than Witchcraft, and there was a little more of ZZ Top’s boogie and swagger in their sound than was typical of the other throwback bands of the era. These guys obviously owned well-worn copies of Cactus albums. That was really the extent of the impression that their debut left upon me. It was well written, it was cleverly crafted and executed with style and poise, though for me personally, there wasn’t much to distinguish Horisont from any other band devoted to that big blues rock sound of lore. When I later received a promotional copy of their sophomore album, Second Assault, it just sounded like more of the same, and I kind of wrote them off as exactly what Butch described: a hopeful band following in the footsteps of these aforementioned other more successful bands, and ultimately finding themselves swallowed in the shadows instead.
With this in mind, it was with some surprise that I found more than a few people heralding Horisont’s 2015 album, Odyssey, as their favorite of the year. Granted, I’d no longer kept up on the band, because honestly there’s just too much music out there for any one person to fully absorb in a live time, and they’d just done nothing thus far to captivate my ever-ebbing attention span. Still, there was something so insistent, so fanatical about the praise being heaped on Odyssey, from people that I knew and trusted. I had to check it out for my lonesome.
I’m glad that I did, because it’s a real gem, a literal diamond in the proverbial rough. It blew me totally out of the water – right out of left field, Horisont had unleashed the best conceptual sci-fi metal album these ears had heard since Slough Feg’s most triumphant Traveler. Perhaps there was some trace of this transition in the band’s third album, Time Warriors, which I’d never heard prior to starting this review. I intend to remedy this situation and find out for myself. Okay, fuck it….I listened to it on YouTube just now, and although it’s a leap forward from the first two albums, flirting with some NWOBHM and prog rock influences, it’s nowhere near as actualized as Odyssey. Perhaps it was the addition of second guitarist Tom Sutton, who had previously played in a past incarnation of Japanese doom mongers Church Of Misery, that galvanized Horisont to so radically step up their game on their fourth album. The most obvious point of departure from the prior albums is the sheer scope of influence that Odyssey so seamlessly encompasses. It’s also worth pointing out that in their bio, they straight up state that it was Tom’s idea to write the ten minute song that eventually morphed into the title track, so there’s that. At any rate, this is the album that The Sword wished that they’d pulled off with Warp Riders, a 70’s throw back album that goes heavy on the science fiction elements without going full prog and thus sacrificing the bodacious boogie.
As much as I’d love to wax poetic about Odyssey for another several paragraphs, I’m going to resist that constant temptation for tangents, just this once. Instead, let’s fast forward a bit to the present moment; the year is 2017, and Horisont is on the verge of releasing their follow-up album, About Time. Tom Sutton is out, some other guy named David is in. This is their first album that’s coming out on Century Media, about a year and a half after Rise Above released Odyssey. I bring these things up strictly because they’ve boxed themselves into a very tight corner, coming off a real creative high point, signing with a new label, replacing a guitarist, then perhaps feeling some pressure to establish themselves on said label with a new release that’s going to follow up their crowning achievement. That’s a tall order, and a year and a half isn’t a lot of time to deliver.
About Time does ultimately deliver, capitalizing on the same strengths that marked its predecessor. It’s another progressive proto-metal album that reminds me of the mid-70’s output of some of my favorite bands of the era: Scorpions, Rush, Thin Lizzy, Blue Oyster Cult, Uriah Heep, Judas Priest, you get the idea. Musically, there’s a ton of super cool things going on. I can’t find a credit anywhere for who is covering the keyboard work, though that’s really one of the album’s strengths, the increased usage of synths both in terms of melodic lead parts and more atmospheric backdrops. The dual guitar attack is once again superb, each part bubbling over with taste and tact. The vocals continue to show improvement, mostly in the sheer bravado of frontman Axel’s delivery, though there are also so many awesome, Scorpions-esque backing parts laced throughout. I also enjoy the playfulness and subtle irreverence of the lyrics, plus the now obligatory song sung in Swedish. The bass and drums play well off one another, and they’ve both got an uncanny knack for holding down the groove while also making sure things stay fresh and interesting. The production is stellar – it’s a nice clean mix that brings out all the myriad elements. It’s also worth noting that the cover art is bad ass, looking like a page from a long lost comic book adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.
Okay, let’s revisit a point I was making earlier in relation to Odyssey. I often don’t like it when an album feels “rushed”, like the band wrote it hastily for some reason that leans more heavily towards being business rather than artistically oriented. I could potentially make that argument here. About Time clocks in at 10 songs in 37 minutes, which is quite a downsize from Odyssey’s 12 tracks and 52 minutes, plus we’re not getting a ten minute epic opener. About Time lacks that special kind of ambition and urgency, it doesn’t overflow with the feeling of unrestrained liberation unleashed by the breaking of prior constraints flows through every note of Odyssey. Rather, it’s more about a refining process, of solidifying and then expanding on previous ideas until they reach their new heights. I really enjoy the songs in and off themselves, the hooks and the pop sensibilities incorporated into a heavier retro metal format, that same alchemical formula for success which catapulted Ghost’s career, minus the corny costumes. Ultimately, this is my favorite Horisont album, largely on the strength of its songwriting, which in my mind frees me from that feeling that they might have been better off if they’d spent some more time on its creation.
Whenever I review a band that’s obviously going for any form of retro-rock shtick, I find myself wanting to go on a tangent about whether or not it’s creatively limiting to strictly mine certain eras of the past for inspiration, if such an approach ultimately cuts an artist off from whole swaths of potential influence. Horisont have pretty much put that particular internal argument to rest for me, as they’ve proven that any time period is a potential goldmine if one is simply willing to expand the breadth of one’s influences. Does any given retrophile act still reek a bit of gimmickry, however sincere in its intent? Sure, though that’s so often the price of entertainment, isn’t it?
Reviewed by Andy “A Beautifully Simple Smart Doorbell By Ding” Beresky